Police launch crackdown on metal thieves
A major police crackdown on metal thieves begins in the West Country today, with tight new regulations on those selling scrap metal enforced at scrapyards across the region.
Police believe they can slash the amount of metal being stolen from churches, schools, roofs, railway lines and even war memorials by as much as two-thirds – simply by demanding that anyone who turns up to sell metal at a scrapyard has to show ID.
The global rise in metal prices has led to an epidemic of opportunist thefts from Gloucestershire and Wiltshire to Dorset and Somerset.
The theft of metal has been the fastest-growing type of crime in every West police force in recent years, but tough new powers will today begin to clampdown on the crimewave at the next stage in the chain.
From today, anyone going to a scrapyard to sell metal will be asked for evidence of identity in the form of a passport, ID card or photo driving licence, backed by proof of address.
The scrap metal merchants themselves have all been told to sign up to a new code of conduct which demands that each piece of metal passing through their yards is traceable – and this morning at scrapyards across the West, police officers will be out in force to make sure this happens.
Police hope this will constrict the market in which the thieves can operate, and if they can’t sell the metal, the hope is they won’t steal it in the first place.
Where the initiative, known as ‘Operation Tornado’, has been trialled, it has cut theft by between two-fifths and three-quarters. Metal theft is estimated to cost the nation £1 billion a year.
Supt Mark Saunders is the regional lead on metal theft. “Tornado is already in operation in other parts of the country having been trialed successfully earlier in the year in Northumbria, Durham and Cleveland.
“These three police areas have seen a significant drop – approximately 60 per cent with Durham achieving a 74 per cent reduction – in the levels of opportunist metal theft, without seeing a rise in other opportunistic crime types, which is extremely positive.
“We have been successfully working with scrap dealers for a number of years with an aim of decreasing the market in which thieves can operate both as a force and as a region and this is a natural progression. Because this is a national scheme, thieves are going to find it difficult to dispose of their stolen goods wherever they go. By working in this way, we will avoid merely displacing the crime,” he added.
Legitimate scrapyard owners have welcomed the initiative. As well as suffering from a bad public image from the apparent ‘dodginess’ of their industry, those scrap merchant owners who wanted to stay legitimate were finding their businesses were suffering from competitors who were less strict.
Steve King from R J King & Sons in Farrington Gurney, near Bristol, said: “Our industry will go through some changes over the next couple of months and adjustments will need to be made, but I believe schemes like Operation Tornado benefits and protects the industry.
“By signing up to schemes such as this and working with the police, we are less likely to end up with stolen materials on our sites, our public image improves, and hopefully will give our industry and public customers more confidence in the way that we trade.
At R J King we have always worked closely with our local police force and once Operation Tornado covers the whole country it will create a level and stable playing field for all.”
Not all scrap merchants in the West have signed up to the police initiative, but those that refuse will increasingly find themselves being visited by council, environmental health and police officials.
Supt Saunders said authorities would be “intrusive” in investigating those scrapyards that don’t sign up.
“We will use all the appropriate powers available to us to investigate and deal with businesses that we suspect are dealing in stolen metal, and will continue to take an intrusive approach in dealing with the thieves and handlers who make money at a cost to each and every tax payer,” said Supt Saunders.
“This operation is one of a range of ongoing overt and covert tactics to prevent and detect metal theft and other related crime.
“The industry has responded very positively to Operation Tornado and the majority have already signed up to the scheme.
“It has not been designed to inhibit legitimate dealers but to target those who actively and knowingly trade in stolen material.
“We will continue to work with the yards to ensure that the service level agreements are adhered to.”